Character Through Comedy

April 15, 2016

Comedy improv.  Yup.  Adults behaving like children, playing a giant game of make-believe while other people watch and laugh and get swept up by the various plots and subplots.  It’s like theatre for actors with ADD.  Never boring.  Never the same.

And it’s what I do every Thursday night.  Performances once a month – on the last Friday of every month. http://www.comedysportzphilly.com/tickets All the shows are great!  I’m in the Rec League (this is a shameless pitch to get you to come see us because we’re awesome and who doesn’t need a laugh?).

So what does this have to do with writing?  Only everything.  If you’ve ever seen Whose Line is It Anyway? or Saturday Night Live or sketch comedy or any theatrical performance whatsoever (or even pretended to be someone you’re not), you’ll know that character creation is a huge part of comedy.  It just so happens that character creation is also a HUGE part of telling any story.  It keeps people interested and wanting more.  Whether you’re watching Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or reading Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (two very different Christmastime-tales), the plots would be irrelevant without the people.  Characters matter.  They make or break a story.  Every time.

But are characters created?  Or are they discovered?  Or both?  Maybe, the answer is different for different writers.

As sappy as this sounds, I personally don’t think of my characters as created.  I start with an idea and, as I begin to write, the characters reveal themselves to me.  Each one is different.  Some represent qualities in myself or in others.  Some protagonists have traits I wish I had, but don’t.  Some represent traits I have and wish I didn’t.  Most of the time, my characters are kick-ass women and girls that I wish would materialize in real life so I could hang out with them.  Once or twice, the initial inspiration for a character came to me during an improv scene.

To a certain extent, all human beings are the same.  We all experience the same four basic emotions – happiness, sadness, fear/surprise, and anger/disgust – and, yet, the possibilities for characters are infinite, both on the stage and on the page.

So thank you, improv, for helping me to access a whole bunch of weird personas.  As long as I keep suiting up and showing up, I am fairly certain I will never run out of characters and, in my opinion, the character-driven novel is the only one worth writing (or reading).

 

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